The final day of the 2020 49er, 49erFX, and Nacra 17 World Championships was packed with excitement for the US Sailing Team. After a long series of challenging racing, the U.S. team has much to celebrate, including a medal and four athletes that have qualified to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
At the conclusion of the final two Nacra 17 fleet races, Riley Gibbs (Long Beach, Calif.) and Anna Weis (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) rose to the occasion and were the first athletes to qualify for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Sailing Team. US Sailing Team 49erFX athletes, Stephanie Roble (East Troy, Wisc.) and Maggie Shea (Wilmette, Ill.) followed shortly after, managing to simultaneously secure the Bronze Medal and the Olympic berth in a nail-biting Medal Race.
Gibbs and Weis began the event with a relatively comfortable, 12-point lead over fellow U.S. athletes Sarah Newberry (Miami, Fla.) and David Liebenberg (Livermore, Calif.). Though Newberry and Liebenberg delivered some solid races to close the gap, Gibbs and Weis answered back and wrapped up the event on a high, finishing the final gold fleet race in second place and securing their spot at the Tokyo 2020 Games.
“It is seriously insane. This is something I’ve dreamed of for a long time and I just can’t believe it’s real. I can’t put this feeling into words. It’s unreal,” Weis said on qualifying. She and Gibbs have had quite a few highlights on their campaign together. Their accomplishments are especially impressive considering the pair only recently teamed up full-time.
Weis continued, “Riley and I have only been sailing together for a year but we’ve already been through so many ups and downs as a team, and this event was just another challenge along the way. We really put our minds to making the most of training and learning as much as we can because we know time isn’t our friend. It’s been a total whirlwind but also so rewarding.”
The team is looking forward to making the most of some brief downtime before they resume training for the Tokyo 2020 Games. “We are so pumped to continue training. We had so many learning moments and great takeaways this week that will really help us push and work hard all the way up to the Olympics. The real grind starts now!”
Today’s 49erFX fleet races ran simultaneously with the Nacra racing and were filled with exciting non-stop action. Paris Henken (Coronado, Calif.) and Anna Tobias (Pittsburgh, Penn.) won the first race of the day while Roble and Shea trailed in 17th, vaulting the Olympic veterans, up the scoreboard to reclaim the lead in the U.S. Olympic trials.
From that moment, it was clear to Roble and Shea that they had little leeway for error for the final fleet race. “After the first race today, we knew that we had used up all of our mistakes, so we had to execute solid races,” said Shea. “We also knew that Paris and Anna were sailing really well and that we had to be ready for a big push at the end.”
As they were able to tighten the gap in the final fleet race, the medal race was set to be the final test for the 49erFX spot on the 2020 U.S. Olympic Sailing Team. After a false start and abandonment of the first medal race attempt, Henken and Tobias started off strong. However, Roble and Shea maximized the short course and good boat handling to make gains and pass them on the first run.
The tight point spread between the third to 10th place boats made for a constantly shuffling leaderboard, and as the two American teams rounded the gate, Henken and Tobais’ spinnaker made contact with Roble and Shea, instigating a penalty turn from Henken and Tobias (watch below). “From there, we just said let’s send it and try to win this race and see how the cookie crumbles,” said Roble.
Roble and Shea held on for the race win with just enough of a margin over Henken and Tobias to win a tiebreaker for the U.S. trials. “We had no idea—we crossed the line and were just really proud of how we sailed and said regardless of the outcome, that we were just really proud of how we rallied,” said Roble.
The pair also had no idea that they simultaneously secured the Bronze Medal. “It’s still totally surreal,” she continued. “Literally, it’s the best day of my life. We’re so happy. We’ve worked really hard to come to this point. We have a group of supporters that have made this dream possible for us. We wouldn’t be standing on this podium without anyone who’s been supporting us on and off the water. This is a massive team effort and we’re really proud of it.” Shea agreed, “Our progress and this entire journey, for that matter, would not have been possible without the amazing team behind us. We have such an army of supporters.”
This is the first World Championship medal won by an American 49erFX pair. Roble and Shea’s medal today isn’t just a victory for them, but for everyone who’s played a role in helping them get to this point. Roble added, “Paris and Anna also were obviously really, really good competitors. They’ve been pushing us absolutely to our limits to be better athletes every single day on and off the water.”
While two of the three classes at this event celebrate the newly selected Tokyo 2020 athletes, the U.S. Men’s 49er sailors will have to wait to find out if they’ll be sending a team to the Games. At the 2019 World Championships, U.S. 49ers unfortunately narrowly missed out on a berth for country representation at the Games.
Though the U.S. doesn’t currently have a berth, it is the first nation in line to receive a forfeited one from another country. Should that situation arise, Nevin Snow (San Diego, Calif.) and Dane Wilson (Ojai, Calif.) will be the U.S. representatives thanks to their finish at this event and the 2019 World Championships.
“We’re pretty stoked. Today was a tough day for us, so we have mixed emotions, but we’re excited,” said Snow. “This event has been a new experience because it felt like the first true trials for us. In Auckland, we were working on getting a spot for the US, which we still haven’t really gotten but we’re hoping it will come. In that respect, this is the first event where we’ve had the other Americans in the corner of our eye, even though no one wants to admit it. So, it has brought a different element for us.”
In addition to the trial elements at play, Snow and Wilson are still learning plenty about what it means to campaign for the Olympics. “We’re also still pretty new to the whole process. Dane and I only started sailing together in April of last year. From our perspective, the group we’ve got going is an exciting thing to be a part of, and a huge step up for U.S. 49er sailing, because it’s proving to be a super-fast way to get better. As you can tell, there were so many American sailors in gold fleet at this event. We weren’t even doing that at intermediate events a year ago. If that’s not evidence of improvement, I don’t know what is.”
After a challenging week battling tricky conditions and tight competition, all of the U.S. athletes will return to the states with plenty to be proud of.
U.S. Final Results
49erFX – view full results
- Stephanie Roble & Maggie Shea, 3rd
- Paris Henken & Anna Tobias, 7th
Nacra 17 – view full results
- Sarah Newberry & David Liebenberg, 14th
- Riley Gibbs & Anna Weis, 17th
- Ravi Parent & Caroline Atwood, 21st
49er – view full results
- Andrew Mollerus & Ian MacDiarmid, 14th
- Nevin Snow & Dane Wilson, 20th
- Ian Barrows & Mitchell Kiss, 21st
- Harry Melges IV & Finn Rowe, 25th
- Judge Ryan & Hans Henken, 26th
2020 ILCA Men’s Laser Standard World Championships
While the competitors in Geelong will finish packing the containers and prepare to get on their long flights back to the states tomorrow, the Laser sailors across the bay in Sandringham are preparing for the final races that will determine their U.S. Olympic trials.
To make up for lost time after yesterday’s postponement, the sailors had three races in pressure that built from 13-18 knots throughout the day. Today’s races featured the first round of the final series. In gold fleet, Chris Barnard (Newport Beach, Calif.) and Charlie Buckingham (Newport Beach, Calif.) battled amongst the top 42 competitors.
While both sailors struggled a bit in the breezier conditions this afternoon, Barnard kicked off the day with an impressive seventh-place finish. His coach John Bertrand (San Mateo, Calif.) commented on the conditions
“Our guys aren’t necessarily the heaviest or tallest in the fleet and can be inconsistent in those conditions. When you have such a packed fleet, it’s also hard to start exactly where you want to. Frequently, you have to compromise and if you can’t hold a lane after the start, it can be really difficult to catch the first shift. That’s the reality when you’re sailing at this level.”
Buckingham began this event with a comfortable 18-point lead over Barnard in the trials. Since the beginning of the event, Barnard has closed the gap by seven positions and according to Bertrand, “Anything can happen as we saw from the FX sailors today. Chris is in really great spirits and is looking forward to the last day of racing. Either way, I’m really proud of the effort he has put in. It’s a big ask for him to overcome the deficit we came in with, but he’s put everything into it with no compromise. So regardless of the outcome at this point, he can be pretty proud of the effort he’s put in and I am too.”
Tomorrow’s three remaining gold fleet races will determine which athlete will be selected to represent the U.S. in the Men’s Laser at the 2020 Games. The first warning is scheduled for 11:00 a.m., local time.